Capital Punishment: Morally Required?

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One of today’s most debated political and moral topics is that of Capital Punishment. Many people believe that the sanctity of life should take precedent over all, and that even if there is some deterrent effect stemming from capital punishment it is still not morally permissible. However, there are still others that believe that it is this same sanctity of life that requires the use of the death penalty in “death eligible” murder cases and capital punishment requires a certain “life-life tradeoff”. Two of the major supporters of the “life-life tradeoff” theory in regards to capital punishment are Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule; together the two co-authored the very persuasive and well-written essay entitled: Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs. As aforementioned, the basis of this essay centers on the argument that capital punishment is not only a morally permissible act (punishment) carried out by the government, but could be seen as a morally required act because of its potential life saving abilities in the form of deterrence. After reading Sunstein and Vermeule’s essay I would have to agree whole-heartedly in their argument that capital punishment, as a deterrent, should be actively used in death eligible cases to further protect innocent “statistical lives”. For those who support the death penalty there are really two overcastting theories as to why capital punishment, in its current or advanced form, should be used: retribution and deterrence. The first theory, retribution, which is not significantly included in Sunstein and Vermeule’s essay, is centered on the belief that those who intentionally kill another human being, and in doing so undermines that victim(s)’ right to life, should also forfeit their right to live. If this holds true, then the best way to carry out such retribution would be through a well defined and competent judicial system. If the judicial system is unable or unwilling to hand out acceptable punishment to murderers then citizens will resort to vengeance in much less civilized manners. While this theory has many supporters and is highly regarded by many proponents of the death penalty, the Sunstein and Vermeule essay chooses to focus more on the theory of deterrence (the life-life tradeoff) as the main reason for the justification, obligation, and continuation of capital punishment in our society. According to Sunstein and Vermeule, the life-life tradeoff is rooted in that whichever the state chooses (that being whether to use capital punishment or not use capital punishment) there is going to be some lose of life. The qualifier then comes with whether or not the loss of life is going to be in 1) the death of the death-row inmate or 2) the death of multiple innocents because of the lack of deterrence. The evidence used by Sunstein and Vermeule comes from recent econometric studies. In these studies the authors used either county-level panel data or state-level panel data to calculate the extent to which capital punishment and death sentences were a deterrent to other potential capital offenses. The results of these studies varied slightly in the projected amount of innocent lives saved, but all still found that capital punishment had some deterrent effects; the range of numbers are as follows: 18, 14, 5, and 4.5. For argument’s sake Sunstein and Vermeule used eighteen as the number of murders actually deterred by the use of capital punishment (that meaning that for every death sentence 18 theoretical or “statistical lives” are saved). Other evidence that supports their claim that the death penalty is a legitimate deterrent comes from the fact that during the moratorium of the death penalty from 1972-1976, 91% of the states noticed an increase in the homicide rate. Then, once the moratorium was lifted, 67% of states saw a significant decrease in the homicide rate. This evidence backs up the fact that capital punishment is a clear deterrent and...
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